By Brittney Johnson, AFRO Intern
The crowning of Amber Nelson brings Audre Lorde’s philosophy to life, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Many Black women may feel there is not a large enough support system for them or that the Baltimore Hon’s, may be apart of that as well, but it is not! It is for every working woman in Baltimore and whose more hardworking than the Black woman. The Baltimore HonFest is hosted each year by the HonHive organization which ran in Hampden, Md., Jun 8-9.
“Hon” is recognized as a term of endearment (short for honey) and is at the root of the mission of the all inclusive womens group, “Baltimore Hons.” A group that was once perceived by the black community as “a white woman’s only group” has raised more momentum by nominating their first Black Baltimore’s Best Hon, Nikki Bass in 2015 and the second, Amber Nelson, in 2018, who reigned supreme as she is only one of five black women in the organization of 25 or so members. Leading the way for African American women looking to join a community organization are: Nikki Bass, Amber Nelson, Naomi Burrell, and Monique Smith. Each honing in on their own mission within their community from different hands dealt to them in life while living around Baltimore.
Nelson, also works with children and adults in the psychiatric field of Johns Hopkins, The AFRO asks Nelson, What her reaction was when she won Baltimore’s Best Hon in 2018 and what her personal mission has been as the reigning queen. Nelson said, “I was incredibly shocked, for many reasons! That was only my second Honfest and I’m not originally from the area. But I think that in some ways I’ve been able to help push the boundaries, perceptions, and expectations of what a Hon is today; and that has really been my mission this year! I wanted to [send a] message to people that anyone can be a Hon! If you fight fiercely for your family, your work, and your community while being generous and loving… youse a hon! I like to say that I’ve always been a Hon, I just didn’t know it! I hope that we have inspired others to embrace their inner Hons along the way too!”
The most gratifying and ground-breaking member of the HonHive would have to be Monique Smith, as an abducted child herself. Smith spends her time fighting for children lost in Baltimore and D.C. metro area to either abduction or human trafficking. I spent many years volunteering with animal shelters in the greater Baltimore area. One of my favorite Hons helped me to begin volunteering, and I eventually started fostering animals. I have organized welcome home events for veterans, participated in Hon-themed holiday parties at nursing homes, and done the Polar Bear Plunge in support of the Special Olympics for years. There are no limits to where Hons can go or what Hons can do to support Baltimore.
Shortly after my year as Baltimore’s Best Hon (in 2015), I moved to Washington, DC for my dream job at the Environmental Protection Agency. I was sad to move, but I have enjoyed sharing Hon love in a neighboring city. While our story is unique to Baltimore, it really resonates with people from all over.
The groups membership in recent years has increased due to the mission of inclusiveness that has been brought to life. Whether the Hon’s are contributing to the veterans, feeding the homeless, or walking in pride the community mission of being involved is being met. Nelson said in regard to inclusiveness, “Today, I think that Honfest and the Hons, are becoming more diverse; not only in regards to race/ethnicity, but also in occupation and interests, ability, politics, religion, orientation, and even geographically. “
Beginning as a small beauty pageant in 1994, the Hon’s have grown into a nationally respected community and festival. Each member displays the characteristics of by embodying the charm, goodwill, and hardwork of women living, working, and playing throughout the city. Through community bonding and their unique 1950’s camp-inspired attire, (which has can be seen transpiring throughout history, even in hip-hop) having anything less than fun is practically impossible. Nelson sums the emergence of the “Hon” as really, “The strong working women of the 50’s and 60’s, who’s husbands returned home after the war but maintained their jobs and now had newfound financial freedom and opportunity. This translated into their dress, decor, involvement in community, and their attitudes. These women had to take care of everyone. Their children, their community, and their jobs. They were strong and independent, and were a part of a dynamic shift in the American culture. While much of the same was happening within the black community during this time, black women in the 50’s and 60’s, were also facing a different type of cultural shift, with major changing dynamics in regards to civil rights.”
Now, as we see the rights of every person that niches themselves in society fighting for basic rights of acceptance. It is imperative that inclusion is at the heart of every organization/or corporation. The HonHive according to Bonnie Hockstein, Main Stage Manager, 70ish, (a lady doesn’t reveal her age,) said,”We bring women together by using their hair- we have each girl wear the beehive hairstyle, that’s our culture.” That is what inclusion looks like to them. Especially, in an area where many black women feel defeated they are able to be celebrated for the uniqueness of black coiled kinks sported in the black community.
The AFRO had the chance to speak to three of the five phenomenal black women within the HonHive organization. Each black woman attempting to use their black girl magic within their community to make not only their lives better but others as well. Naomi Burrell, CEO and Founder of Be Inspired Global, a digital media company to help start up or revive their company digitally, and Amber Nelson, licensed psychologist working with Kennedy Krieger Institute in Md.
AFRO: How did you first learn about the Baltimore Hons?
Naomi Burrell: I was introduced to the Hons through the Flower Mart that is hosted yearly down in Mount Vernon. A friend of mine recommended me to host the Preakness Hat Competition at the Flower Mart with the Hons. I agreed to do it and had the chance to meet some of the awesome Hons Ladies. I was invited to one of their meetings and really enjoyed it.
AFRO: What attracted you to the organization?
Burrell: Well, I had always heard about the Baltimore Hons, but I didn’t really know that much about them or the Hampden area either. But, after meeting all of the ladies and spending time with them, it ended up being so refreshing and fun. I think what I like about it, is a community service that we do and just the many people that this group inspires. This past year, I haven’t been as active as I have wanted to because of some business and family obligations, but the times that I have worked with the Hons has been super rewarding. The ladies are always doing events from parades, feeding homeless vets, just spreading joy. And that’s what attracted me.
AFRO: What is your perception of the diversity of the Hons?
Burrell: I believe that the general idea of the Hons is to spread love, Hon Love. That’s the focus. So in terms of diversity, I believe that the dynamic is changing in a positive way. The organization reflects the climate of the community. Our communities are more inclusive now than they have ever been and so the same is true for the Baltimore Hons. This organization is about spreading love across the board, to everyone.
AFRO: In the Black community, the Baltimore Hons organization is viewed as a group that is made up of predominantly white females. What would you like the Black community to know about the organization and its inclusiveness?
Burrell: Well, yes, I’m sure that has been the perception in the past. And I definitely understand why. But again, the dynamic is changing. People in our communities are more open-minded and inclusive. Now, I do understand that there are definitely people out there that are still unaccepting of people in specific groups, but what I want the Black community to know about the Hons is that it really is about LOVE. That’s what the sentiment of this wonderful group is. It’s about celebrating Baltimore culture and that can’t truly be done without including all aspects of our history and culture.
AFRO: What have been some of the proudest moments you have had since being part of the Hons?
Burrell: One of my proudest moments in particular is working with all my Hon-sisters and Hon-misters to serve dinner to veterans at the Baltimore Station. This is done several times throughout the year. It was amazing to see the happiness on their faces. After we serve them, we get to sit down and talk with them. I have learned so much amazing stuff about these noble men and women who have served our country. It’s just so rewarding.
Hockstein said, “We want people of many different backgrounds. And all women to join us in celebrating love, because it is easy to hate but harder to love. So we promote love.”
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